What do gedolim know about women- a response to Mrs. Toby Katz
Mrs. Toby Katz, over at Crosscurrents, makes the claim that gedolim(the great decisors of the generation) understand women and women's concerns. She answers the question of:
regarding the tendency of some in feminist quarters to question the ability of “the rabbis” to evince sufficient empathy for female concerns….
with this statement
The notion that only blacks can understand blacks, only women can understand women, and so on, undercuts the bedrock of our common humanity.
Gedolim rise to an exceptionally high level of refinement, but all humans who are sufficiently mature and intelligent can understand the feelings of other humans.
An understanding or a response to women can be either on a personal level, or on a policy/communal level. She and some of the other CC bloggers bring nice stories about the personal kindness and generosity of some gedolim. This personal concern for a fellow human being reflects kindness, concern for others, charity and other middot tovot(good traits). However, being nice to people, women included, is different from recognizing problems that are unique to women as a group of people. For example, many people, faced with a demonstrably poor person will give the person money, or help him. It is(I hope) human nature to do so. And, it is only some change, or a few dollars. But how many then go on vote against increasing taxes to help the poor? or give large amounts of money to a faceless organization that will provide better housing for the poor? There are two differences: With one there is a name and a face on the problem, and it is a personal issue related to that one person. With the other there is no one face to the problem, and it is not a personal issue, it is a societal issue unique to one set of societies members. There is a big difference between being nice to a person who shows an obvious need(one which you yourself probably has had, or can imagine yourself having) and understanding the needs of a group of people that you have been shielded from for the majority of your life.
I posted a response noting that male members of the Chareidi community have limited to no interactions with members of the opposite sex except for their immediate family, and their wife. However, Mrs. Katz maintains that the gedolim understand the needs of women. How do they obtain this understanding? A number of possibilites occur to me:
1. By being a gadol, one axiomatically understands the needs of all. This is a bit mystical and since we require proof of miricles, we will put this claim to the side for know.
2. One can only be a gadol if one understands the needs of others. In other words, understanding the needs of women is a criteria for being acclaimed a gadol. Is this in operation? It seems to me that the gedolim are more noted for learning and paskening and PERSONAL middot, than for learning the issues relating to women. We have instances of gedolim who did not suffer fools lightly. Not to be critical, but would they have been less than awesome in the middot of pity or concern for others?
3. Gedolim understand women through their vast learning of Tanach, Shas and Poskim. Obviously, one criteria for being a gadol is tremendous knowledge. However, are women only the sum total of what is written about them in Shas and Poskim? Are men? Can one understand and relate to either sex if all they have is our mesora, but limited to no personal experience?
My answer to that question is a paraphrase(I forgot the author): I truly believe that all knowledge is to be found in the Torah, but that we do not know how to find it all. Even knowledge of plumbing can be found, if one is on a deep enough level. However, until we have reached that level, when I need plumbing work, I will call a plumber.
The proof in the lack of understanding on the part of contemporary gedolim of women's issues is in the posters that went up last year requesting women to leave shul early so as not to have mingling of the sexes after davening. Mrs. Katz, are you leaving shul early? Do you think that the gedolim who signed this understand your desire to daven? to attend shul? If they do, they felt the possibility of your mingling with men was far more dangerous than the benefit to you of finishing davening. Have you asked a gadol how he can accept the instances of heter meah rabbonim that have been increasing? Why they have not put a stop to it? put the perpetrators in cherem?
One of course could argue that the gedolim understand the women's issues in their community- which is the very chareidi one. However, what about the issues of a more moderate chareidi woman? Or the Modern Orthodox? Where can the understanding end?